The history of the Main Bridewell

The Main Bridwell was originally designed as a police station and courts complex for the Corporation of Liverpool. It was used as Liverpool’s main lock-up for more than 130 years, before closing its doors in 1997. Although briefly reopened in 1999, due to fears the new Millennium may cause chaos in the city, it had laid derelict for 16 years before being taken over by Caro. Now a beautifully restored Grade II listed hotel, the Main Bridewell gives you the chance to spend the night locked up in a prison cell.

The building.

Opened in 1859, the prison was designed by John Weightman, who also designed the Liverpool Central Library complex. Over the years the prison had 60-90 cells. Each measured 7ft x 7ft with a heavy wooden door, 3ft thick brick walls and was fitted with a simple wooden bench and chamber pot. The area now used as the Atrium was formerly the prison exercise yard. Overseeing the inmates was the Main Bridewell’s own governor and police chief inspector.

The purpose of the Main Bridewell was as a holding place for those awaiting trial or who had been sentenced and were being transferred to other prisons. Tunnels underneath the prison leading to the old courts at St George’s Hall and directly to the docks allowed prisoners to be moved safely and with ease. Whilst the tunnels still remain, they have now largely been blocked up.

A few unlucky men could also find themselves spending a night in The Main Bridewell for drunken disorderly behaviour around town on a weekend. Don’t be surprised if your taxi driver says he spent a night at The Main Bridewell before it was a hotel!

Daring escapes

In 1865, three men managed to escape on a cold January morning without attracting the attention of the two keepers on duty. All were observed to be in their cells at 1am but one cleverly managed to use a scrap of wire to open the hatch in the cell door through which food was served. Reaching out he was then able to turn the key to the main lock, and quickly opened the doors of the two adjoining cells. The three men made their way into the exercise yard and scaled the walls. They weren’t completely free yet though, as they had now entered the fire station next door. Escape from there was easily done though. With the aid of one of the many ladders that were present, they exited without being detected.

the history of the Main Bridewell

Despite completing such a daring escape, one of the three men, John Murray, gave himself up that very afternoon. After a few hours in the pub, he walked to Walton Gaol and told an official he was an escaped prisoner. Initially though, no notice was taken. When the deputy governor finally recognised him as a frequent inmate, he was taken to the Magistrates Court. He told the Stipendiary Mr Raffles that the other two prisoners had gone to Manchester. It was soon discovered that Murray had recently escaped from the asylum at Rainhill. When he was told that he would be sent back there, he turned violent in the dock, and had to be restrained. This only confirmed the decision that he should be in an asylum and not the mainstream gaol.

Grisly fates.

Often the prospect of a stay in the Main Bridewell filled prisoners with such despair that it led to drastic actions. In August 1897 Harry Parkinson, manager of a furniture shop in Breck Road was arrested after his employer accused him of taking money to pay for goods that didn’t exist. Parkinson was taken into the Main Bridewell with a concealed revolver in his possession. As he was being booked in by the desk sergeant, in the now hotel reception area, he shot himself dead.

Two months after Parkinson’s suicide, 65-year-old Dr Richard Johnson was taken to The Main Bridewell after he was unable to pay £200 in back maintenance payments to his estranged wife. Not long after arriving at the prison, he swallowed prussic acid that he had managed to smuggle in and died almost instantly.

Ghostly tales.

Every so often, we get tales from guests about some ghostly activity they heard during the night. A number have reported hearing someone walking down the corridor late at night jangling a heavy bunch of keys. Could this be the ghost of a former prison guard? Another guest also informed us that they spotted a spooky looking face peering out at them through an upstairs window looking down into the atrium. The room had been empty that night and locked, so who could it have been?

Intrigued by the history of the Main Bridewell and want to spend a night in a cell for yourself? Whilst we can’t guarantee any spooky activity, you’re guaranteed a comfy night’s sleep right in the center of Liverpool. Book your stay with us today by calling 0151 230 1133 or through the booking form at the top of this page!

Be sure to follow Caro Short Stay on FacebookInstagram and Twitter for things to do and see in Liverpool plus exclusive offers!